Diego Simeone’s men spent Wednesday night in seventh place after outlasting fellow Europa League-title and Champions League berth contenders Athletic Bilbao at the Vicente Calderón.
Atlético can still be bumped down to eighth if Espanyol secure a draw or win at Betis on Thursday, but few in Rojiblanco land will be upset at that prospect after their satisfying survival of the fittest 2-1 triumph over los Leones.
From the get-go, los Colchoneros looked determined to make up for the points left behind in Mallorca, pinning los Leones back deep in their own territory. But the early Rojiblanco assault bore no fruit and an uneventful half transpired in much the same way our first 45 minutes at the Iberostar Stadium had.
The Colchonero faithful, still sore from the weekend defeat in Palma, began to feel uneasy.
But, likely because of an impassioned ‘Cholo’ locker room pep talk at half time (or at least, that’s what we’d like to imagine), our men came out reignited, drawing first blood through a Falcao poaching just minutes after the second half had gotten underway.
We assumed full control of the affair from there on out, hitting at our opponents with a steady barrage of attacks until we broke through a second time, again through a ‘Tigre’ strike after a lovely link-up between Salvio and Juanfran.
Though our visitors pulled one back very late, we hung on to pocket the three points oh-so-vital to our Champions League aspirations.
Fourth place-holders Levante’s victory over Real Sociedad at Anoeta continues to keep us five points at bay however.
We ship out to Zaragoza this weekend to square off against the league’s bottom feeders who stunned the Mestalla on Wednesday by defeating Valencia 2-1 with only 10-men for most of the bout.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone gets the best of influential coach and compatriot Marcelo Bielsa
Atleti coach Diego Simeone was able to take down his esteemed colleague Marcelo Bielsa, for whom he assured he had nothing but “great respect and affection” for.
“I don’t talk about the opponents’ coach,” Simeone told reporters in the post-game press conference.
“What I do talk about is the game, and Athletic were a very tough opponent. At no time did I feel like we had the match in the bag.”
Asked if he would give priority to one competition over another, given that his men are currently taking part in La Liga and the Europa League, ‘El Cholo’ said:
“I don’t know what it means to prioritize a competition. We’re Atlético Madrid and we treat every [competition] with respect.”
Falcao bags a brace
While our Basque foes were missing their Lion King, our very own killer feline was free to roam his kingdom.
Falcao banged in his 18th and 19th league goals and now has 25 total in his first season in the red and white strip.
Amazingly, there are still some in the Rojiblanco camp that apparently remain unsatisfied with the Colombian’s production so far, though Simeone feels El Tigre has the support of the club’s fans.
“To me, he’s recognised by the supporters; he’s loved by the fans and you can see that by the amount of shirts he has sold,” Cholo said.
“He has scored 19 goals in the league. He’s a noble player, with a lot of charisma, that has the historical characteristics of this club.
“We all value him a lot.”
The goalscorer himself said: “It was a great performance by the whole team. My job is to get inside the box to finish plays and, thank God, I was able to do that today.
“At the end we had to defend a result and we achieved that. We had to win and the three points are what’s most important.”
Falcao continued: “We are very strong. The games go by and the team matures and keeps growing.
“We need the fans. There are times when we can’t play beautifully, but the result must be defended and that’s where we need them to pick us up so that our opponents feel like visitors.”
Left back Filipe Luis weighed in, sharing his thoughts on his lethal team-mate.
“Falcao is indisputable, a player that contributes tremendously to the team and we are delighted to have him because he is always there fighting, whether he scores or not,” Filipe said.
“He is already succeeding and will have even much more success at Atleti.”
Arda, fully fit, shines again
Another player that has proven himself indispensable, especially with the absence of Diego, is Turkish wonderboy Arda Turan.
Though our midfield continues to lack stability, the Turk’s presence bolstered our attacking threat significantly, while he also contributed in other important areas such as ball recovery and retention.
Apart from injury concerns and questionable decision-making off the pitch, there really have never been any doubts or complaints about the former Galatasaray star’s quality and commitment.
Perea makes spectacular goal line clearance
Defender Luis Perea came on in the 79th minute to replace Arda and dramatically made a spectacular goal line save of a ball that was destined to roll in with about eight minutes left to play in addition to pitching in with two crucial hard-but-clean tackles to foil clear chances for our opponents.
Simeone was very pleased with the veteran’s performance.
“There are players with a lot of desire to come in,” the Argentine tactician said.
“I’d like to highlight Perea. Beginning with his courage, dedication, sacrifice, his example helps the locker room grow. Perea was a decisive factor in securing the result because of the way he came in.
“Everyone on the bench waiting to play should follow his lead. Every time Perea comes in he gives his life, at thirty-something years old and with his contract about to expire.
“He’s an example.”
Luis Amaranto was modest about his heroic goal line clearance.
“I was lucky to be in the spot where the ball was rolling,” he said. “For me, every minute is golden and I try to make the most of it.
In spite of the Colombian international’s best efforts to help Thibaut Courtois keep a clean sheet, we were unable to notch our 13th shutout in the league.
The 33-year-old added his own words of praise for countryman Falcao.
“‘Rada’ is a natural goalscorer,” he said.
“He must be fed passes inside the box and he takes care of the rest. Every ball that gets to him in the penalty area is a goalscoring chance.
“Hopefully we can take much more advantage of him. I’m happy for him for having scored two goals.”
Perea is in line for a start this weekend against Real Zaragoza as Juanfran will not be taking part in that encounter through suspension.
Gabi, ‘The Butcher of the Calderón’?
Atleti midfielder Gabi, who captained his squad to victory, picked up his 10th yellow on Wednesday and will be suspended for our trip to Zaragoza Sunday, thereby missing out on his return to his former home of four seasons: La Romareda Stadium.
The Atleti youth product leads the league in fouls committed per game with an average of 2.9 per match (WhoScored.com). The former Maño midfielder also leads the Europa League in total fouls committed with 33.
We here at AtléticoFans feel Gabi’s aggressiveness has earned him the right to a nickname. We’ll go with ‘The Butcher of the Calderón’ for now, but we’re open to your suggestions.
“It was an important match for us to latch on to the top spots,” the 28-year-old said after the clash.
“We achieved a hard fought victory and against a great opponent. We could’ve scored the 3-0 but because of that, the team dropped back perhaps out of tiredness or because of the result.
He continued: “They scored a goal against us but I think we only suffered for one minute. We knew that if we didn’t win today it was going to be very hard to make it into Champions League. We could not fail.
“It was a genuine final and the team showed up for it. Now we have two very important league games: Zaragoza on Sunday and Getafe at home, and if we get the six points we’ll be very close to the Champions League zone.”
No injuries were reported following this game.
We await news of Diego and Tiago’s status for our next match.
UPDATE: Atlético’s official site has confirmed that Diego has been cleared to play and trained fully with team-mates in practice Thursday morning. He should be at Cholo’s disposal for our next game.
- Juanfran’s assist on our second goal was his second of the season and fourth assist since he arrived at Atleti. Both assists this year have been passes to Falcao.
- Simeone faces the absences of Gabi and Juanfran (one-match bans) and possible unavailability of Diego and Tiago (injury) for our trip to Zaragoza.
- Falcao, with 25 total goals in the current campaign, surpassed Diego Forlán’s inaugural Atlético season total of 23 and is two goals shy of Sergio Aguero’s highest single season output at Atleti. El Tigre has scored five goals in the last four games and has now found the back of the net in four straight matches.